assisted-living
Assisted Living

How Do You Know if an Assisted Living Community is Great, Good, or Bad?

You’ve probably heard the wise advice to make two visits each assisted living facility you’re considering – one scheduled visit and one unannounced drop-in. But what should you do on these visits to decide which assisted living communities are good and which are not so good? A smart idea from Colorado’s Health Facilities and Emergency Medical Services Division is to trust your senses when you visit prospective assisted living communities. This means not only eyeing the décor and layout of the facility but sensing other important clues about the quality of life there as well.

Use your sense of smell. A good assisted living facility will smell fresh and clean but not like overpowering disinfectant. Foul or stale odors can be a sign of problems with cleanliness, maintenance, ventilation, or mold growth. And even if your parent is a smoker, you don’t want to move him or her into a community that smells like cigarette smoke. For health and fire-safety reasons, smoking should not be allowed inside the community’s buildings. Outdoor smoking areas should be located away from entrances to prevent secondhand smoke from wafting in.

Listen well. A good assisted living community will sound like just that – a community. On each visit, listen for two different things. The first is the sounds of a happy group of people. Do staffers greet you when you arrive? Are residents and staff members having pleasant and respectful conversations? Do people sound like they enjoy each other’s company? If you overhear complaints or questions, does the staff address them promptly? Do staffers call each resident by name, or do they fall back on catchall terms like ‘honey’ and ‘sweetie?’ If you have permission, chat with staffers and residents to see what they like about working or living in the community.

The other thing to listen for is the overall level of quiet or noise. If your parents have trouble following conversations when there’s lots of background noise or echoes, make sure the acoustics in the common areas—especially the dining room—make it easier, not harder, for them to socialize and keep up with the conversations going on around them.

Touch things. A good facility will provide pleasant and safe tactile experiences for its residents. Have a seat—in the common living area, in the dining room, in a resident room (if possible), and outdoors. Will the community’s seating be comfortable and easy for your parents to use on their own? Is the furniture arranged in a way that leaves clear paths for safe walking? Is the upholstery clean? Are doors light enough to open easily or automated for hands-free use? Are the floors free of trip and fall hazards like throw rugs or slick tile? Are there Braille guides and handrails for residents who need them?

Taste test. A good assisted living kitchen will turn out meals that residents are eager to eat. Eat at least one meal in the community dining room and see what’s on offer as snacks throughout the day. Does the food taste fresh, properly cooked, and not over-salted? While you’re sampling the menu, ask if customized dining options are available for special diets (or picky eaters). If your folks don’t like the food in their assisted living community, you’ll hear about it, so take your time chewing this over.

Take a look. Relying on visuals can be tricky, because most of us are impressed by the fanciest décor and nicest amenities when we compare senior communities. Those things are great, as long as you also see the things that matter the most:

  • Residents, staffers, and guests who look relaxed and content
  • Clean floors, doors, windows, and furniture
  • Staffers who are busy engaging with residents and guests and taking care of tasks
  • Managers who are on site and paying attention to what goes on in their community
  • Safety and security features such as fire alarms, emergency lighting, sprinklers, door access codes or lobby security staff

Then there are administrative things to look for on site. Ask to see the community’s:

  • Social activity calendars for residents
  • State inspection reports
  • Care plan forms
  • Emergency plans in case of hurricane, flood, fire, or power outage

A good assisted living facility will happily provide this information to potential residents and their families.

Finally, look elsewhere for a few vital pieces of information about each facility you visit. Check online review sites like SeniorAdvisor.com for feedback from residents, relatives, and employees. Ask for word of mouth feedback from neighbors, coworkers, and friends who have family living or working in the community. Look for prompt and respectful responses by community managers to complaints posted online. Search online for news items about the community or its owners. Contact your state health and human services department to see if the communities you’re looking at have any outstanding complaints or compliance issues.

The best assisted living communities have all of the things you can sense right away – great food, safe and comfortable environments, positive social interactions, clean air, and the right balance of quiet and noise – plus great online reviews and good word of mouth recommendations. They also have positive press for their role in the local community, clean inspection reports, and a reputation for dealing with complaints quickly and appropriately.

Visiting each assisted living center twice and collecting all of this information can be a lot of work, especially for one person. If you can enlist other family members and friends whose judgment you trust, you can share the legwork and research and save yourself some time. Ultimately, your hard work will pay off when you find a place where your parents will be content and catered to, and where they have opportunities to socialize and enjoy good meals. That’s a goal worth using all your senses to achieve.

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance writer for SeniorAdvisor.com. Her childhood was made awesome by her grandmothers, great-grandmother, great-aunts and -uncles, and their friends. SeniorAdvisor.com is one of the nation’s largest senior living review sites. Browse photos, ratings, and opinions of assisted living, dementia care, independent living, senior apartments, and more – all by people just like you.